The Problem with Mid-Size Pickups
It doesn’t take a chart junkie to notice the steady downward sloping direction the sales arrow is pointed in for mid-size pickups. 800,000 small trucks were sold in 2002 but only 507,000 units sold last year – a staggering 37% drop in six years.
The decline didn’t seem too bad, or too big, the first few years. Small truck buyers found that they could afford full-size trucks (incentive wars and super low financing pushed half-ton prices down) and the manufacturers were happy because they made more money off the bigger pickups.
Money flowed where the sales were. Manufacturers continuously reinvested and improved their full-size trucks with new features, in response to customer demand and to remain competitive. Small trucks, which returned relatively little profit to manufacturers – especially from the Detroit Three – were neglected in favor of the big trucks.
Then, about two years ago, real estate started to go south and fuel prices started to climb. Recreational buyers began to jump from full size commuter trucks and contractors slowed the turnover rates of their work rigs. Last year full-size truck sales fell 8%.
Buyers who don’t need max-capability from a full size truck are looking for fuel efficient alternatives and coming up empty-handed. They aren’t finding it in the current crop of mid-size trucks, which have grown nearly as big as full-size trucks were in the 1980s, yet lack modern fuel saving features (cylinder deactivation, six-speed automatic transmissions), creature comforts, and slick factory-installed cargo management systems for the box, because of the drought of manufacturer investment.
Enter General Motors’ segment-blurring GMC Denali XT direct injection V8 hybrid flex-fuel unibody pickup concept that will debut at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show.
How segment-blurring? Even the designers switch back and forth between calling it a car or a truck depending on the topic at hand.
Designed by GM’s Holden team in Australia, where most of the General’s hot products seem to be coming from these days, GM thinks the Denali XT could be just what buyers are looking for in a next generation mid-size truck.
Form Factor and Architecture
Put advanced powertrain and pricing thoughts aside – because any Denali trimmed GMC truck is courting the Starbucks set, not the Dunkin Donuts crowd – to first consider the XT’s form factor and architecture.
In Australia this four-door car-truck would be called a Crewman Ute. Two-door Utes date back to the 1930s but a four-door version only appeared in 2003, when Holden started selling the VY Crewman. An improved VZ Crewman went on sale in 2004. Both versions were more popular with Australian buyers than GM expected but Crewman production stopped when the new VE two-door Ute and Commodore sedan were introduced last year.